NHL PLAYOFF PREVIEW Western Conference
No. 1 Detroit (51-17-10-4) vs. No. 8 Vancouver (42-30-7-3).
This season: Red Wings 3-1-0
Detroit scouting report: The NHL could book the Red Wings as a Hall-of-Fame road show. G Dominik Hasek, C Steve Yzerman, RW Brett Hull, LW Luc Robitaille, D Chris Chelios, C Sergei Fedorov, RW Brendan Shanahan and C Igor Larionov are locks for enshrinement. Shanahan led the team with goals (37), assists (38) and points (75). D Niklas Lidstrom tied for the league lead among defensemen with 58 points while Chelios led the NHL with a plus-40 rating. Hasek topped all goalies in wins with a dazzling 41-15-8 record. The Wings had 100 points by March 9th and have probably been waiting for the playoffs to start ever since.
Vancouver scouting report: Colorado welcomed Vancouver to its first playoff appearance since 1996 by sweeping the Canucks in last year's playoffs. Vancouver lumbered through the first two months of this season with uneven play until a nine-game unbeaten streak in late January brought them to .500 and a late 13-2-1 run put them in the playoffs. RW Markus Naslund (90 points) and LW Todd Bertuzzi (85) finished second and third in the league in scoring while G Dan Cloutier, in his first year as a full-time starter, posted the first winning season of his career with a solid 31-22-5 record. Ed Jovanovski led the Vancouver defense with career-high 17 goals.
No. 2 Colorado (45-28-8-1) vs. No. 7 Los Angeles (40-27-11-4).
This season: Tied 2-2-0.
Colorado scouting report: Injuries (RW Milan Hejduk) and inconsistencies (RW Chris Drury, LW Alex Tanguay) stunted the defending Stanley Cup Champions' offense this year. C Joe Sakic's 79 points (26 goals, 53 assists) led the team, with the next best total belonging to D Rob Blake (56 points). G Patrick Roy may have had his best statistical season at the age of 36, with his 1.94 goals-against average and nine shutouts both leading the NHL. Looming over the Avalanche is the possible addition of Peter Forsberg, who missed the season due to foot injuries but returned to the ice about two weeks ago and has been skating with the team.
Los Angeles scouting report: The Kings were the story of last year's playoffs, first upsetting Detroit then pushing Colorado to seven games. But a slow start to this season and shaky goaltending by Felix Potvin had observers thinking those successes were a fluke. An 11-3 record in January righted the ship and the Kings began challenging for a division crown. C Jason Allison led the team with 54 assists and 74 points but left the goal-scoring to RW Ziggy Palffy (32) and Adam Deadmarsh (a career-high 29). Potvin finished with a 31-27-8 mark in a team record 71 appearances. Los Angeles ended the season 9-0-2-0 in their last 11 home games.
No. 3 San Jose (44-27-8-3) vs. No. 6 Phoenix (40-27-9-6).
This season: Sharks 3-2-0
San Jose scouting report: The Sharks won the first division title in their history, set a franchise high for points (99) and improved their record for the sixth consecutive year. Calder-Trophy winning G Evgeny Nabokov erased any thoughts of a sophomore slump, finishing with 37 wins -- third best in the league -- and seven shutouts. RW Owen Nolan lead the team with 66 points and RW Teemu Selanne, in his first full year with San Jose, shook off an early drought to score a team-leading 29 goals. The Sharks were the only team in the NHL to feature six players with 20 or more goals. (Nolan, Selanne, C Vincent Damphousse, C Patrick Marleau, LW Scott Thornton and LW Marco Sturm).
Phoenix scouting report: A massive payroll cut beginning at last season's trade deadline left the Coyotes as an afterthought in the Western Conference. Gone were star LW Keith Tkachuk, C Jeremy Roenick and G Nikolai Khabibulin. But career years from C Daniel Briere (32 goals) and C Daymond Langkow (61 points) sparked an unexpected playoff run. G Sean Burke guided the Coyotes with a career-best 33-21-6 record, including a 9-1-0 mark and a 1.70 goals-against average in March. Phoenix's best streak came after the Olympic break, when they went 12-2-1-2 between March 26th and April 1st. Burke's 33 wins tied the franchise's single-season record.
No. 4 St. Louis (43-27-8-4) vs. No. 5 Chicago (41-27-13-1).
This season: Blackhawks 3-1-1.
St. Louis scouting report: Big changes during the summer, most notably the addition of Doug Weight, were meant to make St. Louis grittier and less finesse-oriented. Instead, the Blues season was a wild ride, featuring a 10-game win streak, a seven-game winless streak and a flirtation with missing the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Pavol Demitra led the team with 78 points and Keith Tkachuk, in his first full season with St. Louis, scored 38 goals, the most for a Blue since 1996-97. Brent Johnson, the popular choice to replace Roman Turek in net, went 34-20-4, with a 2.18 goals-against average. The Blues finished strong, going 8-2 in the final 10 games.
Chicago scouting report: The Blackhawks went from being one of the worst teams in the league to one of the most consistent, improving 25 points from last season. Five players reached the 60-point plateau (RW Tony Amonte, RW Steve Sullivan, C Michael Nylander, C Alex Zhamnov and 38-goal scorer LW Eric Daze) and Chicago rolled to its first playoff appearance since 1997. Newcomers Phil Housley and Jon Klemm fortified a defense that allowed 30 fewer goals than it had last season. Despite some trouble following the Olympic Break, Jocelyn Thibault has been strong in net, finishing with a 33-23-9 record. While they were 28-7-5-1 at home, the Blackhawks were just 13-20-8 on the road.
-- Associated Press